‘Why Is Our Century Worse Than Any Other? …’ by Anna Akhmatova

Why is our century worse than any other?

Is it that in the stupor of fear and grief

It has plunged its fingers in the blackest ulcer,

Yet cannot bring relief?

 

Westward the sun is dropping,

And the roofs of towns are shining in its light.

Already death is chalking doors with crosses

And calling the ravens and the ravens are in flight.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1919)

– from Подорожник (Plantain/Wayside Grass, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas

‘The Cuckoo I Asked…’ by Anna Akhmatova

The cuckoo I asked

How many years I would live… The

Pine tops shivered,

A yellow shaft fell to the grass.

In the fresh forest depths, no sound…

I am going

Home, and the cool wind

Caresses my hot brow.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1 June, 1919)

– from Подорожник (Plantain/Wayside Grass, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas

Let Me Die A Youngman’s Death by Roger McGough

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a clean and inbetween
the sheets holywater death
not a famous-last-words
peaceful out of breath death

When I’m 73
and in constant good tumour
may I be mown down at dawn
by a bright red sports car
on my way home
from an allnight party

Or when I’m 91
with silver hair
and sitting in a barber’s chair
may rival gangsters
with hamfisted tommyguns burst in
and give me a short back and insides

Or when I’m 104
and banned from the Cavern
may my mistress
catching me in bed with her daughter
and fearing for her son
cut me up into little pieces
and throw away every piece but one

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax and waning death
not a curtains drawn by angels borne
‘what a nice way to go’ death

 

by Roger McGough

‘Blue Heaven, But The High…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Blue heaven, but the high

Catholic domes are more blue.

Forgive me, happy boy,

The death I brought you.

 

For the roses from the stall,

For the foolish letters you sent,

That your dark and impudent

Face grew pale.

 

I thought, a cadet’s pride

At becoming adult.

I thought, objects of the cult

Aren’t loved like brides.

 

But it happens to be real.

Into the freezing days,

Already listless, you follow me

Everywhere and always.

 

As though you wanted to see

Court-evidence

I didn’t love you. Forgive me!

Vowed yourself to martyrdom.

 

And death held out his hand to you…

But why? Why did ou take it?

I didn’t know how frail the naked

Throat under the high blue

 

Collar. Happy boy… tortured

Owlet… Forgive me.

I find it hard today

To leave the church.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1913, November)

– from Четки (Rosary, 1914), translation by D. M. Thomas

 

I Have Come To Take Your Place Sister… by Anna Akhmatova

-I have come to take your place, sister,

At the high fire in the forest’s heart.

 

Your eyes have grown dull, your tears cloudy,

Your hair is grey.

 

You don’t understand the songs birds sing

Anymore, nor stars, nor summer lighting.

 

Don’t hear it when the women strike

The tamborine; yet you fear the silence.

 

I have come to take your place, sister,

At the high fire in the forest’s heart’…

 

-‘You’ve come to put me in the grave.

Where is your shovel and your spade?

You’re carrying just a flute.

I’m not going to blame you,

Sadly a long time ago

My voice fell mute.

 

Have my clothes to wear,

Answer my fears with silence,

Let the wind blow

Through your hair, smell of the lilac.

You have come by a hard road

To be lit up by this fire.’

 

And one went away, ceding

The place to another, wandering

Like a blind woman reading

An unfamiliar narrow path,

 

And still it seemed to her a flame

Was close… In her hand a tamborine…

And she was like a white flag,

And like the light of a beacon.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1912)

– from Четки (Rosary, 1914), translation by D. M. Thomas

‘I Came Here In Idleness…’ by Anna Akhmatova

I came here in idleness.

It’s all the same where to be bored!

A small mill on a low hilltop.

The years can be silent here.

 

Softly the bee swims

Over dry convolvulus.

At the pond I call the mermaid

But the mermaid is dead.

 

The wide pond has grown shallow

And clogged with a rusty slime.

Over the trembling aspen

A light moon shines.

 

I notice everything freshly.

The poplars smell of wetness.

I am silent. Without words

I am ready to become you again, earth.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1911, Tsarskoye Selo)

– from Вечер (Evening, 1912), translation by D. M. Thomas

Marina by T. S. Eliot

“Quis hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga?”

 

What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands

What water lapping the bow

And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog

What images return

O my daughter.

 

Those who sharpen the tooth of the dog, meaning

Death

Those who glitter with the glory of the hummingbird, meaning

Death

Those who sit in the style of contentment, meaning

Death

Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals, meaning

Death

 

Are become unsubstantial, reduced by a wind.

A breath of pine, and the woodsong fog

By this grace dissolved in place

 

What is this face, less clear and clearer

The pulse in the arm, less strong and stronger –

Given or lent? more distant than stars and nearer than the eye

 

Whispers and small laughter between leaves and hurrying feet

Under sleep, where all the waters meet.

Bowsprit cracked with ice and paint cracked with heat.

 

I made this, I have forgotten

And remember.

The rigging weak and the canvas rotten

Between one June and another September.

Made this unknowing, half conscious, unknown, my own.

The garboard strake leaks, the seams need caulking

This form, this face, this life

Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me

Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken,

The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.

 

What seas what shores what granite islands towards my timbers

And woodthrush calling through the fog

My daughter.

 

by T. S. Eliot

First published September 25, 1930 in Ariel Poems.